Dear Corporations: Read this before you sponsor Pride

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Dear Corporate Marketing People,

I get it. The Pride parade has a massive audience. Getting your name in front of that many people can boost your customer base and your recruiting efforts. Sponsor away.

But please do not cannibalize your company’s Diversity and Inclusion budget to do it, because what you are doing is not allyship to the queer community.

Your willingness to slap your logo in massive letters onto a rainbow background, then parade it on a sparkling float down a congested thoroughfare, does not advance the LGBT rights movement. What it does is advertise for you.

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Your company is looking for a relatively immediate monetary return on this investment. It’s a fantastic way to spend your marketing dollars.

It is not a way to spend your D&I budget, and doing so takes precious resources away from programs you could run to actually promote diversity and inclusion in your company and in your industry. Which your parade float does not do, in case that wasn’t clear.

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This is advertising, not allyship.

By sponsoring Pride, what you are doing is attending the birthday party of the LGBT rights movement. It celebrates the leadership of Marsha P. Johnson at the Stonewall Riot, which launched the crusade for LGBT equal rights in the United States.

The Story of the Stonewall Riot

SUMMER, 1969 (not long ago), NEW YORK CITY (not some “red area”): very few places do business with LGBT people, making it difficult and dangerous for LGBT people to congregate. The exceptions: a few seedy bars that have become targets for bribe-hungry police officers. The police officers raid the place and extort the patrons and owners.

June 28: The Mafia-owned Stonewall Inn is the target of one such raid. That night, the patrons get fed up.

An enormous crowd led by trans women of color surrounds the police as they escort Mafia members into their wagons. But when police begin roughly handcuffing/clubbing queer people, that crowd fights back. Marsha P. Johnson, a trans black woman, becomes the mother of the modern LGBT rights movement as she slings a brick through a window, inciting chaos. The crowd tries to overturn police wagons. The riots continue for several nights…

followed by picketing…

followed by pressuring lawmakers…

followed, at long, long last, by change.

The LGBT community gathers in June to celebrate those trans women of color who picked up bricks and demanded “No More.”

By the way…The story of the Stonewall Inn is why it’s a big deal when the government says bakeries have the right to not bake cakes for gay weddings. Believe me, the LGBT community is not fighting to keep discriminatory bakeries in business. Rather, we’re looking at the past and noticing that sanctioned commercial discrimination makes us an easy target for brutalization for personal gain.

Pride is a joyous occasion, and thank you for coming, but your attendance at a birthday party does not show solidarity.

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This bank is the go-to loan source for private prisons notorious for mistreating marginalized inmates, especially trans black women. So for them to celebrate Marsha P. Johnson is a little rich.

You know what shows solidarity? Showing up to a funeral.

Let me tell you another story:

SUMMER, 2016, ORLANDO: It’s now legal for gay people to congregate, and a large crowd has assembled at the LGBT-friendly Pulse nightclub.
June 12: A guy walks in with a gun and starts shooting up the place. 49 people die.

What did your company do the Monday after that happened?

Did your managers make an effort to ask their LGBT direct reports how they were doing?

Did the event get mentioned or memorialized at your company meetings and gatherings?

Or did your company, like my company, ignore the fact that the whole thing had happened?

Because here’s the problem: in the tech community, most companies did not do a damn thing until and unless their very own LGBT employees shouldered the burden themselves.

My company encouraged employees to wear their company-sponsored shirts to Pride. The shirts had rainbow flags on them, but not too big, so sales people could plausibly deny their meaning to conservative clients. In fact, here’s the shirt design. I have obfuscated the company logo, which was in black.

company logo with tiny rainbow flag in the corner

When I headed out to join a Pride celebration later in June, I didn’t think to wear this shirt. You know what I did think to do? Call my mother and tell her I loved her, just in case somebody showed up to Chicago Pride with an AR-15.

Fuck your shirt.

I use that word sparingly on this blog, but this is an appropriate occasion.

You want to call your company ‘ally’? Here’s what you do:

  1. Divest from partners, collaborators, or clients with discriminatory practices. Clear out all your accounts payable and accounts receivable to discriminatory clients and vendors. Find different clients and vendors.
  2. Divest from administrations with discriminatory practices. Does your company (or your board, with your company’s stock, this is a common workaround) currently make campaign contributions to candidates that advocate for discriminatory practices? Cut them off.
  3. Divest from areas with discriminatory laws. This one is tricky, because we don’t want to strand vulnerable folks trapped in “red” states. But determine what you can do to deny your tax dollars to systems that prioritize hurting the LGBTQ community.
  4. Speak out against discriminatory legislation. Publicly, not just in private company meetings.
  5. Ensure that your healthcare plan is trans-inclusive.
  6. Ensure that your healthcare plan covers reproductive health for folks who can get pregnant.
  7. Ensure that your partner and parenting policies apply to partners outside the confines of marriage.
  8. Ensure that you’re not docking marginalized people in the interview process for short stints at many jobs; this often happens because they faced harassment at those jobs.
  9. Enact anti-discrimination clauses in internal hiring and promotion practices.

And don’t nurse off your D&I budget for a dog and pony show at the Pride parade.

This could appear on any sponsorship poster at any event anywhere

Do not use your D&I budget for rainbow shirts, hats, and other promotional memorabilia strategically distributed in the month of June. 

Mobilize, not when your marginalized employees and customers are happy, but when they are sad. It is in these moments that there is a wrong to be made right. 

Stop showing up to the birthday parties. Start showing up to the funerals.

How? Conveniently for you, I gave a whole 20 minute talk on this, and my friend and colleague Elliot helped me get it on video for you. See the video on Allyship in Times of Crisis.

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